If University City could write the job description for its police division commander, requirements would certainly include deep experience in reshaping policing amid rapid growth and the coming of light rail. Capt. Brian Foley, who assumed the post in September, has that experience, plus a love for effective communication. “I’m a firm believer in face-to-face contact,” he says.
Capt. Foley replaces former Division Commander Todd Garrett, who retired this fall. University City Partners newsletter editor Rich Haag talked with Capt. Foley recently about his career, his take on the challenges facing University City and the importance of effective communication.
About Capt. Foley
Our new division commander is a Charlotte native who has lived most of his life in the Park Road area. Capt. Foley earned a BS in political science at UNC Chapel Hill and an Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate from the NC Department of Justice.
An officer since 1992, he has served with the Mecklenburg County Police Department and the consolidated Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. For more than 11 years, Foley served in the northern part of Mecklenburg County, including northern University City.
As a lieutenant in North Division, Foley organized and ran the Neighborhood Advisory Council, a coalition group of leaders and activists from a broad section of communities designed to share experience and build relationships to address quality of life issues and reduce crime.
In 2012, He was Executive Officer for the Department’s logistics group for the Democratic National Convention.
Foley attained the rank of captain in January. Prior to his promotion to University City division commander, Foley served on watch command, helping oversee night and weekend operations for the entire department.
He has earned both the CMPD Police Community Relations award and Outstanding Employee of the Year award.
I am happy to be here,” Capt. Foley says. “This is an opportunity given to me by chief to play to the strengths that I have developed over years. My hope is that I’m able to work all these factors to make this division and community as successful as possible.”
Working with University City Partners and our businesses
Capt. Foley believes that good communication between police and citizens is crucial. University City Partners provides a unique opportunity for CMPD not only to interact with businesses but to bring policing ideas to the table, he says.
“When I’m interacting with the business community, I’m learning from them. What are you in business for? What are you looking for, going forward? And what are you looking for from the police to make your business better? Communication is key.”
Meeting the opportunities and challenges of growth
“If there is one word that is the greatest challenge going forward for me and for University City I’d say it is growth,” Capt. Foley says.
He dealt with rapid growth in the North Division, where as a lieutenant he oversaw the area around Northlake Mall. Foley says he saw first-hand the benefits and new challenges that rapid growth can bring. For instance, the opening of I-485 west of I-77 dramatically reduced response times across the division, up to a point. Now the congestion has shifted to the arterials around the interchanges.
The Outer Belt also brings traffic to areas that previously were isolated. People who lived on the edge of Charlotte have never had to think about locking their shed before, he says. Then one day the tools and the lawn mower are gone.
Police are responding to such changes with new tools and tactics, Foley says. Adding bike patrols and officers on dual-sport motorcycles can help CMPD exert police presence into these new areas such as greenways.
Good communication is also crucial. “I’ve had a lot of experience with growth, and my approach has been to establish direct lines of communication with the business and neighborhood leadership,” he said.
Handling the coming of light rail
Capt. Foley and his family live near the South Boulevard transit corridor. He has watched new residential communities rise in old industrial districts. Brew pubs have sprung up across the South End. Police will have to respond to similar changes as light rail transforms University City, he says.
“This is a unique time to work with the businesses here during this light-rail transition, and I’m excited to see how this area will change,” he says. “Will we reinvent ourselves and bring in new business?” Can we create a high-energy area similar to Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood? “I look forward to helping plan that here.”
Light rail will provide new opportunities for UNC Charlotte students to easily get around Charlotte, he notes. Where will they choose to live, once they can ride the Blue Line to NoDa, Uptown and beyond? Where will they go for work and fun?
People who are criminals who live elsewhere will also have the opportunity to travel by light rail. “I am already thinking about how policing will change with the opening of light rail,” he says.
Our three police forces must work together
Along with the countywide Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, two other law-enforcement agencies will operate in University City once the light-rail line begins operation to UNC Charlotte.
The transit system employs a private security force, G4S, to patrol its trains, stations and decks. CMPD already coordinates its activities with the UNC Charlotte Police Department. The campus police force has 50 full-time sworn personnel who provide protection on campus and nearby.
“How will police interact with CATS security? Police also have to coordinate with Chief (Jeff) Baker at UNC Charlotte. The last transit station will end next to the dorms. All these things I’m thinking about now,” Capt. Foley says.
Partners in crime prevention
Police need our help to prevent crime, Capt. Foley says. “We can’t do it on our own. That is why we need communication.”
The first step to reducing crime in our community is for people to remember that crime happens everywhere, Capt. Foley says, so when something looks or feels wrong, call the police. “We are more successful when we are able to talk to people about what does or doesn’t look right,” he says.
Having strong community contacts is also important in fighting crime. Capt. Foley says that his No. 1 priority is to rebuild those contacts.
“How do we quickly establish these relationships,” he asks, “to ensure that we are meeting their needs and that the message of our department is heard: that the police department responds and people do what they can to lessen the opportunities for crime, both business and residential?”